The Big Heat (1953)

The Big Heat, Fritz Lang. 1953. Set in Anytown, USA, all the hard-boiled elements are here: dead crooked cop, Mafioso with political connections, police elite on the take, fast talking tough guys (embodied by a young Lee Marvin), and the lone wolf detective who will take them all down. Adapted from a Saturday Evening Post serial, the story is noir at its most brutal. Glenn Ford as brooding detective Bannion deserves special mention for a delivery that’s all mumbles, intense stares, and bursts of violence. A 1950s family man, at home he wears cardigans; once he goes rogue cop, it’s the required trench coat and fedora. What really makes the picture, however, is Lang’s camera, which floats and hovers and zooms and swivels then fixes its gaze like a ghost watching its own funeral. The contribution from the master of German Expressionism to the noir genre is starkly on display: morbid cool tinged with claustrophobia that amplifies the darkness…while watching the film, we are the ghost at the funeral dance.

 

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